In a major shakeup in the war on terrorism, President Bush has ordered the counterterrorism operations of the FBI and CIA to move into a new center overseen by the director of the CIA. The center will provide a national clearinghouse for the analysis of terrorist-related information.
Addressing an audience of federal, state and local government employees at FBI headquarters Friday, the president said that the FBI's counterterrorism division and the CIA's counterterrorism center will move under one roof as part of the new Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which the president announced in his State of the Union address in January. The White House later said in statement that the new organization would have "unfettered access to all terrorist threat intelligence information," regardless of what agency collected it.
The FBI and CIA divisions will remain under the direction of their respective agencies. However, the director of the integration center will be appointed by and report to the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, who also serves as the director of the CIA. There is an ongoing debate among intelligence experts over whether one person should have both those responsibilities, and placement of the new center under that official's purview will probably provoke a controversy.
Phil Anderson, the director of homeland security studies at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the administration's plan creates a relationship between the CIA and the new group, making it less independent and possibly hindering its effectiveness.
Anderson said the setup would give more power to the CIA director, who is the president's main intelligence conduit. That could inhibit information sharing rather than encourage it, Anderson argued, because it would concentrate so much authority in the hands of one person. That person may not want to cede his influence. Anderson said the new center should be entirely independent of the CIA to avoid that potential conflict.
The new center will be established in three phases:
First, on May 1, about 60 government employees and additional contract personnel will establish a round-the-clock watch center at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. They will mainly produce analyses of terrorist threats for senior leaders, the White House said.
In the second phase, the integration center will become the "principal gateway" for requests from policymakers about intelligence analysis of potential terrorist threats. It also will maintain a database of known or suspected terrorists, and will double its staff.
In the final stage, the center will become the government's hub for all terrorism analysis. The center will move to a different facility and have a staff of 250 to 300 people.
The White House didn't say when the second and third phases would be completed. Several sites to house the center are being considered.
The center will only analyze intelligence and not collect information. The FBI would still be the main gatherer of domestic intelligence on terrorists under the White House plan.
However, several proposals would lessen the FBI's role in that area. A commission evaluating intelligence and terrorism issues, chaired by former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, recommended the creation of a new agency to conduct domestic intelligence gathering. And Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., Thursday introduced legislation that would strip the FBI of its counterterrorism responsibilities, which consist mostly of information gathering.
The White House has concluded that because the new center will be a "joint venture" of the agencies involved, it requires no statutory authority. Also, the director of central intelligence, as the statutory head of all U.S. intelligence agencies, has oversight authority of the center, the White House said.
At a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Friday, lawmakers said they weren't sure the center could be established without an act of Congress. No administration officials have testified about the new center yet, they said.
Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said the administration informed them no official was available to attend the hearing. But while the committee was hearing from witnesses, who included Gilmore and former Sen. Warren Rudman, Bush was giving his speech at the FBI and the White House released a statement providing details about the center.
A Collins spokeswoman said her staff was still reviewing the details of the president's order, and was not able to comment in time for publication.
Staffers from Lieberman's office also did not respond in time for publication.
The White House promised to consult Congress should the integration center require further statutory authority.
The White House emphasized that the Homeland Security Department would be a "key participant" in the new terrorism center. The department has its own information analysis division, which many observers had expected would become the central analysis organization.
Homeland Security will receive and analyze terrorism information, determine threats to U.S. infrastructure and take action to protect it, the White House said. The department will also disseminate information to the public, businesses and to state and local governments.